San Francisco to vote on using AI, drones and security cameras to fight crime


By Anna Tong and Nathan Frandino

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – San Francisco will vote next week on a divisive ballot measure that would authorize police to use surveillance cameras, drones and AI-powered facial recognition as the city struggles to restore a reputation tarnished by street crime and drugs. 

The Safer San Francisco initiative, formally called Proposition E, is championed by Mayor London Breed who believes disgruntled citizens will approve the proposal on Tuesday. 

Although technology fueled the Silicon Valley-adjacent city’s decades-long boom, residents have a history of being deeply suspicious. In 2019, San Francisco, known for its progressive politics, became the first large U.S. city to ban government use of facial recognition due to concerns about privacy and misuse. 

Breed, who is running for re-election in November, played down the potential for abuse under the ballot measure, saying safeguards are in place.

“I get that people are concerned about privacy rights and other things, but technology is all around us,” she said in an interview.

“It’s coming whether we want it to or not. And everyone is walking around with AI in their hands with their phones, recording, videotaping,” Breed said. 

Critics of the proposal contend it could hurt disadvantaged communities and lead to false arrests, arguing surveillance technology requires greater oversight. 

Matt Cagle of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which opposes the measure, said anecdotal evidence from places where the technology has been used is alarming.

“We’ve heard about stories of Black folks primarily … being arrested for crimes they didn’t commit, having their lives derailed,” said Cagle. 

But backers appear to believe that growing anger among residents over rampant car thefts and public drug use in San Francisco will translate into votes for expanded police powers.

San Francisco never got back on its feet after the pandemic, and some large businesses and retailers have closed, blaming crime and other ills.  

City pride has taken a hit from an exodus of high-skilled workers, an emptying of downtown due to remote work and the proliferation of tent camps. 

If approved, the proposition would enable police to install security cameras in public places, use facial recognition in video surveillance and deploy drones to assist officers.

While San Francisco’s violent crime rate is lower than other major U.S. cities’, the petty crime rate is much higher, according to the FBI. 

Supporters of the measure argue anti-police sentiment went to an extreme in San Francisco after the killing of Black man George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020. 

“We over-corrected … we threw the police as a concept under the bus,” said Chris Larsen, founder of cryptocurrency startup Ripple who has contributed to the campaign in favor of the Safer San Francisco measure.     


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button